Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro was unapologetic Tuesday for how his office handled the Christopher Deedy murder trial that ended Monday in a hung jury.
In a rare press conference, Kaneshiro defended the decision not to give jurors the option to consider a lower charge of manslaughter, stuck up for his deputy prosecuting attorney who handled the case and committed his office to retrying Deedy for second-degree murder.
But he also sidestepped some of the most pressing questions that arose before, during and after the trial, including why he believed second-degree murder was the most appropriate charge.
“Without discussing the evidence the initial charge was made based on the evidence,” Kaneshiro said. “I have to be very careful. I cannot discuss, specifically, the evidence.”
This was Kaneshiro’s most common retort on Tuesday. In fact, he used this phrase — and variations of it — more than a dozen times during the 30-minute press conference. His reason: he is “ethically prohibited” from discussing the details of an ongoing case.
Deedy, 29, is accused of shooting and killing 23-year-old Kollin Elderts in a Waikiki McDonald’s on Nov. 5, 2011. Deedy is a special agent with the U.S State Department who was in Honolulu as part of a security detail for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Kaneshiro said the purpose for the press conference was to dispel any myths that the “so-called legal experts” had perpetuated while discussing the Deedy trial on TV and in the media. Pundits, most of them attorneys, slammed Kaneshiro’s office for not pushing harder to get a manslaughter charge before the jury.
Kaneshiro challenged the notion that his office even had that option when Circuit Court Judge Karen Ahn was deciding whether to allow the jury to consider the lower charge of manslaughter when deliberating on the case.
Ahn said during trial there was no evidence that reckless manslaughter was an appropriate charge in the trial. This forced jurors to decide between murder and acquittal.
“It’s the judge who makes the decision if the manslaughter instruction goes in,” Kaneshiro said. “It doesn’t matter if we ask for it or not. It doesn’t matter at all. We cannot ask for it and the judge can put it in. Or we can ask for it and she can not put it in.”
Kaneshiro added that he agreed with Ahn’s decision to not allow the jury to consider the lesser charge, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years as opposed to life for second-degree murder.
“She did a good job,” Kaneshiro said, “and I concur with her decision that there was no evidence of reckless manslaughter.”
But Kaneshiro didn’t preclude the possibility that his office will consider manslaughter in the second trial. He also didn’t shut the door on a possible plea deal. Instead, he reiterated his intention to retry the case.
Kaneshiro says it’s likely Ahn will still be the judge when the trial begins again, presumably next summer. He also has no intention of yanking Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Janice Futa from the case, calling her one of his most dogged murder prosecutors.
“If I did not have confidence in Jan she would not have been assigned the case,” Kaneshiro said. “She’s an excellent trial attorney. She’s done many murder cases and she did an excellent job in this case.”
Other points addressed during Tuesday’s debriefing included trial cost and whether Deedy’s job as a federal law enforcement officer played a role in the prosecution, which Kaneshiro denied had any influence.
He also refused to answer any questions about a strange series of secret discussions that took place Monday between Ahn and the attorneys, saying “if the judge wanted it to be public she would have made it public.”
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